JEP 412: Foreign Function & Memory API (Incubator)

OwnerMaurizio Cimadamore
StatusProposed to Target
Discussionpanama dash dev at openjdk dot java dot net
Reviewed byAdam Pocock, Alex Buckley, Paul Sandoz
Created2021/04/10 21:05
Updated2021/05/13 23:07


Introduce an API by which Java programs can interoperate with code and data outside of the Java runtime. By efficiently invoking foreign functions (i.e., code outside the JVM), and by safely accessing foreign memory (i.e., memory not managed by the JVM), the API enables Java programs to call native libraries and process native data without the brittleness and danger of JNI.


The API proposed in this JEP is the evolution of two incubating APIs: the Foreign-Memory Access API and the Foreign Linker API. The Foreign-Memory Access API was first proposed by JEP 370 and targeted to Java 14 in late 2019 as an incubating API; it was re-incubated by JEP 383 in Java 15 and by JEP 393 in Java 16. The Foreign Linker API was first proposed by JEP 389 and targeted to Java 16 in late 2020, also as an incubating API.



It is not a goal to


The Java Platform has always offered a rich foundation to library and application developers who wish to reach beyond the JVM and interact with other platforms. Java APIs expose non-Java resources in a convenient and reliable fashion, whether to access remote data (JDBC), invoke web services (HTTP client), serve remote clients (NIO channels), or communicate with local processes (Unix-domain sockets). Unfortunately, Java developers still face significant obstacles in accessing an important kind of non-Java resource: code and data on the same machine as the JVM, but outside the Java runtime.

Foreign memory

Data stored in memory outside the Java runtime is referred to as off-heap data. (The heap is where Java objects live — on-heap data — and where garbage collectors do their work.) Accessing off-heap data is critical for the performance of popular Java libraries such as Tensorflow, Ignite, Lucene, and Netty, primarily because it lets them avoid the cost and unpredictability associated with garbage collection. It also allows data structures to be serialized and deserialized by mapping files into memory via, e.g., mmap. However, the Java Platform does not today provide a satisfactory solution for accessing off-heap data.

In summary, when it comes to accessing off-heap data, Java developers face a dilemma: Should they choose a safe but inefficient path (ByteBuffer) or should they abandon safety in favor of performance (Unsafe)? What they require is a supported API for accessing off-heap data (i.e., foreign memory) designed from the ground up to be safe and with JIT optimizations in mind.

Foreign functions

JNI has supported the invocation of native code (i.e., foreign functions) since Java 1.1, but it is inadequate for many reasons.

Over the years, numerous frameworks have emerged to fill the gaps left by JNI, including JNA, JNR and JavaCPP. While these frameworks are often a marked improvement over JNI, the situation is still less than ideal, especially when compared with languages which offer first-class native interoperation. For example, Python's ctypes package can dynamically wrap functions in native libraries without any glue code. Other languages, such as Rust, provide tools which mechanically derive native wrappers from C/C++ header files.

Ultimately, Java developers should have a supported API that lets them straightforwardly consume any native library deemed useful for a particular task, without the tedious glue and clunk of JNI. An excellent abstraction to build upon is method handles, introduced in Java 7 to support fast dynamic languages on the JVM. Exposing native code via method handles would radically simplify the task of writing, building, and distributing Java libraries which depend upon native libraries. Furthermore, an API capable of modeling foreign functions (i.e., native code) and foreign memory (i.e., off-heap data) would provide a solid foundation for third-party native interoperation frameworks.


The Foreign Function & Memory API (FFM API) defines classes and interfaces so that client code in libraries and applications can

The FFM API resides in the jdk.incubator.foreign package of the jdk.incubator.foreign module.


As a brief example of using the FFM API, here is Java code that obtains a method handle for a C library function radixsort and then uses it to sort four strings which start life in a Java array (a few details are elided):

// 1. Find foreign function on the C library path
MethodHandle radixSort = CLinker.getInstance().downcallHandle(
                             LibraryLookup.ofDefault().lookup("radixsort"), ...);
// 2. Allocate on-heap memory to store four strings
String[] javaStrings   = { "mouse", "cat", "dog", "car" };
// 3. Allocate off-heap memory to store four pointers
MemorySegment offHeap  = MemorySegment.allocateNative(
                                                     CLinker.C_POINTER), ...);
// 4. Copy the strings from on-heap to off-heap
for (int i = 0; i < javaStrings.length; i++) {
    // Allocate a string off-heap, then store a pointer to it
    MemorySegment cString = CLinker.toCString(javaStrings[i], newImplicitScope());
    MemoryAccess.setAddressAtIndex(offHeap, i, cString.address());
// 5. Sort the off-heap data by calling the foreign function
radixSort.invoke(offHeap.address(), javaStrings.length, MemoryAddress.NULL, '\0');
// 6. Copy the (reordered) strings from off-heap to on-heap
for (int i = 0; i < javaStrings.length; i++) {
    MemoryAddress cStringPtr = MemoryAccess.getAddressAtIndex(offHeap, i);
    javaStrings[i] = CLinker.toJavaStringRestricted(cStringPtr);
assert Arrays.equals(javaStrings, new String[] {"car", "cat", "dog", "mouse"});  // true

This code is far clearer than any solution that uses JNI, since implicit conversions and memory dereferences that would have been hidden behind native method calls are now expressed directly in Java. Modern Java idioms can also be used; for example, streams can allow for multiple threads to copy data between on-heap and off-heap memory in parallel.

Memory segments

A memory segment is an abstraction that models a contiguous region of memory, located either off-heap or on-heap. Memory segments can be

All memory segments provide spatial, temporal, and thread-confinement guarantees which are strongly enforced in order to make memory dereference operations safe. For example, the following code allocates 100 bytes off-heap:

MemorySegment segment = MemorySegment.allocateNative(100, newImplicitScope());

The spatial bounds of a segment determine the range of memory addresses associated with the segment. The bounds of the segment in the code above are defined by a base address b, expressed as a MemoryAddress instance, and a size in bytes (100), resulting in a range of addresses from b to b + 99, inclusive.

The temporal bounds of a segment determine the lifetime of the segment, that is, when the segment will be deallocated. A segment's lifetime and thread-confinement state is modeled by a ResourceScope abstraction, discussed below. The resource scope in the code above is a new implicit scope, which ensures that the memory associated with this segment is freed when the MemorySegment object is deemed unreachable by the garbage collector. The implicit scope also ensures that the memory segment is accessible from multiple threads.

In other words, the code above creates a segment whose behavior closely matches that of a ByteBuffer allocated with the allocateDirect factory. The FFM API also supports deterministic memory release and other thread-confinement options, discussed below.

Dereferencing memory segments

Dereferencing the memory associated with a segment is achieved by obtaining a var handle, an abstraction for data access introduced in Java 9. In particular, a segment is dereferenced with a memory-access var handle. This kind of var handle uses a pair of access coordinates:

Memory-access var handles are obtained via factory methods in the MemoryHandles class. For example, this code obtains a memory-access var handle that can write an int value into a native memory segment, and uses it to write 25 four-byte values at consecutive offsets:

MemorySegment segment = MemorySegment.allocateNative(100, newImplicitScope());
VarHandle intHandle = MemoryHandles.varHandle(int.class, ByteOrder.nativeOrder());
for (int i = 0; i < 25; i++) {
    intHandle.set(segment, /* offset */ i * 4, /* value to write */ i);

More advanced access idioms can be expressed by combining memory-access var handles using one or more of the combinator methods provided by the MemoryHandles class. With these a client can, e.g., reorder the coordinates of a given memory-access var handle, drop one or more coordinates, and insert new coordinates. This allows the creation of memory access var handles which accept one or more logical indices into a multi-dimensional array backed by a flat off-heap memory region.

To make the FFM API more approachable, the MemoryAccess class provides static accessors to dereference memory segments without the need to construct memory-access var handles. For example, there is an accessor to set an int value in a segment at a given offset, allowing the code above to be simplified to:

MemorySegment segment = MemorySegment.allocateNative(100, newImplicitScope());
for (int i = 0; i < 25; i++) {
    MemoryAccess.setIntAtOffset(segment, i * 4, i);

Memory layouts

To reduce the need for tedious calculations about memory layout (e.g., i * 4 in the example above), a MemoryLayout can be used to describe the content of a memory segment in a more declarative fashion. For example, the desired layout of the native memory segment in the examples above can be described in the following way:

SequenceLayout intArrayLayout
    = MemoryLayout.sequenceLayout(25,
        MemoryLayout.valueLayout(32, ByteOrder.nativeOrder()));

This creates a sequence memory layout in which a 32-bit value layout (a layout describing a single 32-bit value) is repeated 25 times. Given a memory layout, we can avoid calculating offsets in our code and simplify both memory allocation and the creation of memory-access var handles:

MemorySegment segment = MemorySegment.allocateNative(intArrayLayout, newImplicitScope());
VarHandle indexedElementHandle =
    intArrayLayout.varHandle(int.class, PathElement.sequenceElement());
for (int i = 0; i < intArrayLayout.elementCount().getAsLong(); i++) {
    indexedElementHandle.set(segment, (long) i, i);

The intArrayLayout object drives the creation of the memory-access var handle through the creation of a layout path, which is used to select a nested layout from a complex layout expression. The intArrayLayout object also drives the allocation of the native memory segment, which is based upon size and alignment information derived from the layout. The loop constant in the previous examples, 25, has been replaced with the sequence layout's element count.

Resource scopes

All of the memory segments seen in the previous examples use non-deterministic deallocation: The memory associated with these segments is deallocated by the garbage collector, once the memory segment instance becomes unreachable. We say that such segments are implicitly deallocated.

There are cases where the client might want to control when memory deallocation occurs. Suppose, e.g., that a large memory segment is mapped from a file using MemorySegment::map. The client might prefer to release (i.e., unmap) the memory associated with the segment as soon as the segment is no longer required rather than wait for the garbage collector to do so, since waiting could adversely affect the application's performance.

Memory segments support deterministic deallocation through resource scopes. A resource scope models the lifecycle associated with one or more resources, such as memory segments. A newly-created resource scope is in the alive state, which means that all the resources it manages can be safely accessed. At the client's request a resource scope can be closed, which means that access to the resources managed by the scope is no longer allowed. The ResourceScope class implements the AutoCloseable interface so that resource scopes work with the try-with-resources statement:

try (ResourceScope scope = ResourceScope.newConfinedScope()) {
    MemorySegment s1 ="someFile"), 0, 100000,
                                         MapMode.READ_WRITE, scope);
    MemorySegment s2 = MemorySegment.allocateNative(100, scope);
} // both segments released here

This code creates a confined resource scope and uses it in the creation of two segments: a mapped segment (s1) and a native segment (s2). The lifecycle of the two segments is tied to the lifetime of the resource scope, so accessing the segments (e.g., dereferencing them with memory-access var handles) after the try-with-resources statement has completed will cause a runtime exception to be thrown.

In addition to managing a memory segment's lifetime, a resource scope also serves as a means to control which threads can access the segment. A confined resource scope restricts access to the thread which created the scope, whereas a shared resource scope allows access from any thread.

A resource scope, whether confined or shared, may be associated with a java.lang.ref.Cleaner object that takes care of performing implicit deallocation in case the resource scope object becomes unreachable before the close method is called by the client.

Some resource scopes, referred to as implicit resource scopes, do not support explicit deallocation — calling close will fail. Implicit resource scopes always manage their resources using a Cleaner. Implicit scopes can be created using the ResourceScope::newImplicitScope factory, as shown in earlier examples.

Segment allocators

Memory allocation can often be a bottleneck when clients use off-heap memory. The FFM API includes a SegmentAllocator abstraction, which defines useful operations to allocate and initialize memory segments. Segment allocators are obtained via factories in the SegmentAllocator interface. For example, the following code creates an arena-based allocator and uses it to allocate a segment whose content is initialized from a Java int array:

try (ResourceScope scope = ResourceScope.newConfinedScope()) {
    SegmentAllocator allocator = SegmentAllocator.arenaAllocator(scope);
    for (int i = 0 ; i < 100 ; i++) {
        MemorySegment s = allocator.allocateArray(C_INT, new int[] { 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 });
} // all memory allocated is released here

This code creates a confined resource scope and then creates an unbounded arena allocator associated with that scope. This allocator will allocate slabs of memory, of a specific size, and respond to allocation requests by returning different slices of the pre-allocated slab. If a slab does not have sufficient space to accommodate a new allocation request, a new slab is allocated. If the resource scope associated with the arena allocator is closed, all memory associated with the segments created by the allocator (i.e., in the body of the for loop) is deallocated atomically. This idiom combines the advantages of deterministic deallocation, provided by the ResourceScope abstraction, with a more flexible and scalable allocation scheme. It can be very useful when writing code which manages a large number of off-heap segments.

Unsafe memory segments

So far, we have seen memory segments, memory addresses, and memory layouts. Dereference operations are only possible on memory segments. Since a memory segment has spatial and temporal bounds, the Java runtime can always ensure that memory associated with a given segment is dereferenced safely. However, there are situations where clients might only have a MemoryAddress instance, as is often the case when interacting with native code. Since the Java runtime has no way to know the spatial and temporal bounds associated with a memory address, directly dereferencing memory addresses is forbidden by the FFM API.

To dereference a memory address, a client has two options.

Looking up foreign functions

The first ingredient of any support for foreign functions is a mechanism to load native libraries. With JNI, this is accomplished via the System::loadLibrary and System::load methods, which internally map into calls to dlopen or its equivalent. The FFM API loads native libraries via the LibraryLookup class, which also lets the client control the scope of the search for symbols:

Given a library lookup, a client can retrieve a foreign function with the LibraryLookup::lookup(String) method. If the named function is present among the symbols seen by the library lookup then the method returns a MemoryAddress which points to the entry point of the function. For example, the following code looks up the clang_getClangVersion function provided by the clang library:

LibraryLookup libclang     = LibraryLookup.ofLibrary("clang");
MemoryAddress clangVersion = libclang.lookup("clang_getClangVersion").get();

In addition, a client can retrieve a foreign global variable with the LibraryLookup::lookup(String, MemoryLayout) method. If the named variable is present among the symbols seen by the library lookup then the method returns a MemorySegment which is associated with the memory region in which the global variable is stored, and whose size matches that of the MemoryLayout argument. For example, the following code looks up the errno global variable:

LibraryLookup clib         = LibraryLookup.ofDefault();
MemorySegment errnoSegment = clib.lookup("errno", MemoryLayouts.JAVA_INT).get();

This library lookup mechanism differs from JNI’s library loading mechanism (i.e., System::loadLibrary) in an important way. Native libraries designed to work with JNI can use JNI functions to perform Java operations, such as object allocation or method access, which might trigger class loading. Therefore such JNI-affiliated libraries must be associated with a class loader when they are loaded by the JVM. Then, to preserve class loader integrity, the same JNI-affiliated library cannot be loaded from classes defined in different class loaders. In contrast, the FFM API does not offer functions for native code to access the Java environment, and does not assume that native libraries are designed to work with the FFM API. The native libraries loaded via LibraryLookup are unaware that they are accessed from code running in a JVM, and make no attempt to perform Java operations. As such, they are not tied to a particular class loader and can be (re)loaded as many times as needed by FFM API clients in different loaders.

Linking Java code to foreign functions

The CLinker interface is the core of how Java code interoperates with native code. While the CLinker is focused on providing interoperation between Java and C libraries, the concepts in the interface are general enough to support other, non-Java languages in future. The interface enables both downcalls (calls from Java code to native code) and upcalls (calls from native code back to Java code).

interface CLinker {
    MethodHandle downcallHandle(MemoryAddress func,
                                MethodType type,
                                FunctionDescriptor function);
    MemoryAddress upcallStub(MethodHandle target,
                             FunctionDescriptor function,
                             ResourceScope scope);

For downcalls, the downcallHandle method takes the address of a foreign function — typically, a MemoryAddress obtained from a library lookup — and exposes the foreign function as a downcall method handle. Later, Java code invokes the downcall method handle by calling its invokeExact method, and the foreign function runs. Any arguments passed to the method handle's invokeExact method are passed on to the foreign function.

For upcalls, the upcallStub method takes a method handle — typically, one which refers to a Java method, rather than a downcall method handle — and converts it to a memory address. Later, the memory address is passed as an argument when Java code invokes a downcall method handle. In effect, the memory address serves as a function pointer. (For more information on upcalls, see below.)

Suppose we wish to downcall from Java to the strlen function defined in the standard C library:

size_t strlen(const char *s);

A downcall method handle that exposes strlen can be obtained as follows (the details of MethodType and FunctionDescriptor will be described shortly):

MethodHandle strlen = CLinker.getInstance().downcallHandle(
    MethodType.methodType(long.class, MemoryAddress.class),
    FunctionDescriptor.of(C_LONG, C_POINTER)

Invoking the downcall method handle will run strlen and make its result available in Java. For the argument to strlen, we use a helper method to convert a Java string into an off-heap memory segment and pass that segment's address:

MemorySegment str = CLinker.toCString("Hello", newImplicitScope());
long len          = strlen.invokeExact(str.address());  // 5

Method handles work well for exposing foreign functions because the JVM already optimizes the invocation of method handles all the way down to native code. When a method handle refers to a method in a class file, invoking the method handle typically causes the target method to be JIT-compiled; subsequently, the JVM interprets the Java bytecode that calls MethodHandle::invokeExact by transferring control to the assembly code generated for the target method. Thus, invoking a traditional method handle is already a quasi-foreign invocation; a downcall method handle that targets a function in a C library is just a more-foreign form of method handle. Method handles also enjoy a property called signature polymorphism that allows box-free invocation with primitive arguments. In sum, method handles let the CLinker expose foreign functions in a natural, efficient, and extensible manner.

Describing C types in Java

To create a downcall method handle, the FFM API requires the client to provide a two-sided view of the target C function: a high-level signature using opaque Java objects (MemoryAddress, MemorySegment), and a low-level signature using transparent Java objects (MemoryLayout). Taking each signature in turn:

As an example, obtaining a downcall method handle for a C function which takes an int and returns a long would require the following MethodType and FunctionDescriptor arguments to downcallHandle:

MethodType mtype         = MethodType.methodType(long.class, int.class);
FunctionDescriptor fdesc = FunctionDescriptor.of(C_LONG, C_INT);

(This example targets Linux/x64 and macOS/x64, where the Java types long and int are associated with the predefined CLinker layouts C_LONG and C_INT respectively. The association of Java types with memory layouts varies by platform; for example, on Windows/x64, a Java long is associated with the C_LONG_LONG layout.)

As another example, obtaining a downcall method handle for a void C function which takes a pointer would require the following MethodType and FunctionDescriptor:

MethodType mtype         = MethodType.methodType(void.class, MemoryAddress.class);
FunctionDescriptor fdesc = FunctionDescriptor.ofVoid(C_POINTER);

(All pointer types in C are expressed as MemoryAddress objects in Java; the corresponding layout, whose size depends on the current platform, is C_POINTER. Clients do not distinguish between, e.g., int* and char**, because the Java types and memory layouts passed to the CLinker jointly contain enough information to pass Java arguments correctly to the C function.)

Finally, unlike JNI, the CLinker supports passing structured data to foreign functions. Obtaining a downcall method handle to a void C function which takes a struct would require the following MethodType and FunctionDescriptor:

MethodType mtype         = MethodType.methodType(void.class, MemorySegment.class);
MemoryLayout SYSTEMTIME  = MemoryLayout.ofStruct(
  C_SHORT.withName("wYear"),      C_SHORT.withName("wMonth"),
  C_SHORT.withName("wDayOfWeek"), C_SHORT.withName("wDay"),
  C_SHORT.withName("wHour"),      C_SHORT.withName("wMinute"),
  C_SHORT.withName("wSecond"),    C_SHORT.withName("wMilliseconds")
FunctionDescriptor fdesc = FunctionDescriptor.ofVoid(SYSTEMTIME);

(For the high-level MethodType signature, the Java client always uses the opaque type MemorySegment where a C function expects a struct passed by value. For the low-level FunctionDescriptor signature, the memory layout associated with a C struct type must be a composite layout which defines the sub-layouts for all the fields in the C struct, including padding which might be inserted by a native compiler.)

If a C function returns a by-value struct, as expressed by the low-level signature, then a fresh memory segment must be allocated off-heap and returned to the Java client. To achieve this, the method handle returned by downcallHandle requires an additional SegmentAllocator argument, which the FFM API uses to allocate a memory segment to hold the struct returned by the C function.

Packaging Java arguments for C functions

Interoperation between different languages requires a calling convention to specify how code in one language invokes a function in another language, how it passes arguments, and how it receives any results. The CLinker implementation has knowledge of several calling conventions out-of-the-box: Linux/x64, Linux/AArch64, macOS/x64, and Windows/x64. Being written in Java, it is far easier to maintain and extend than JNI, whose calling conventions are hardwired into HotSpot's C++ code.

Consider the function descriptor shown above for the SYSTEMTIME struct and layout. Given the calling convention of the OS and CPU where the JVM is running, the CLinker uses the function descriptor to infer how the struct's fields should be passed to the C function when a downcall method handle is invoked with a MemorySegment argument. For one calling convention, the CLinker could arrange to decompose the incoming memory segment, pass the first four fields using general CPU registers, and pass the remaining fields on the C stack. For different calling convention, the CLinker could arrange for the FFM API to pass the struct indirectly by allocating a region of memory, bulk-copying the contents of the incoming memory segment into that region, and passing a pointer to that memory region to the C function. This lowest-level packaging of arguments happens behind the scenes, without any need for supervision by client code.


Sometimes it is useful to pass Java code as a function pointer to some foreign function. We can achieve that by using the CLinker support for upcalls. In this section we build, piece by piece, a more sophisticated example which demonstrates the full power of the CLinker, with full bidirectional interoperation of both code and data across the Java/native boundary.

Consider the following function defined in the standard C library:

void qsort(void *base, size_t nmemb, size_t size,
           int (*compar)(const void *, const void *));

To call qsort from Java, we first need to create a downcall method handle:

MethodHandle qsort = CLinker.getInstance().downcallHandle(
    MethodType.methodType(void.class, MemoryAddress.class, long.class,
                          long.class, MemoryAddress.class),
    FunctionDescriptor.ofVoid(C_POINTER, C_LONG, C_LONG, C_POINTER)

As before, we use C_LONG and long.class to map the C size_t type, and we use MemoryAddess.class both for the first pointer parameter (the array pointer) and the last parameter (the function pointer).

qsort sorts the contents of an array using a custom comparator function, compar, passed as a function pointer. Therefore, to invoke the downcall method handle, we need a function pointer to pass as the last parameter to the method handle's invokeExact method. CLinker::upcallStub helps us create function pointers by using existing method handles, as follows.

First, we write a static method in Java that compares two long values, represented indirectly as MemoryAddress objects:

class Qsort {
    static int qsortCompare(MemoryAddress addr1, MemoryAddress addr2) {
        return MemoryAccess.getIntAtOffset(MemorySegment.globalNativeSegment(),
                                           addr1.toRawLongValue()) -

Second, we create a method handle pointing to the Java comparator method:

MethodHandle comparHandle
    = MethodHandles.lookup()
                   .findStatic(Qsort.class, "qsortCompare",

Third, now that we have a method handle for our Java comparator, we can create a function pointer using CLinker::upcallStub. Just as for downcalls, we describe the signature of the function pointer using layouts in the CLinker class:

MemoryAddress comparFunc =

We finally have a memory address, comparFunc, which points to a stub that can be used to invoke our Java comparator function, and so we now have all we need to invoke the qsort downcall handle:

MemorySegment array = MemorySegment.allocateNative(4 * 10, newImplicitScope());
array.copyFrom(MemorySegment.ofArray(new int[] { 0, 9, 3, 4, 6, 5, 1, 8, 2, 7 }));
qsort.invokeExact(array.address(), 10L, 4L, comparFunc);
int[] sorted = array.toIntArray(); // [ 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 ]

This code creates an off-heap array, copies the contents of a Java array into it, and then passes the array to the qsort handle along with the comparator function we obtained from the CLinker. After the invocation the contents of the off-heap array will be sorted according to our comparator function, written in Java. We then extract a new Java array from the segment, which contains the sorted elements.


Fundamentally, any interaction between Java code and native code can compromise the integrity of the Java Platform. Linking to a C function in a precompiled library is inherently unreliable because the Java runtime cannot guarantee that the function's signature matches the expectations of the Java code, or even that a symbol in a C library is really a function. Moreover, if a suitable function is linked, actually calling the function can lead to low-level failures, such as segmentation faults, that end up crashing the VM. Such failures cannot be prevented by the Java runtime or caught by Java code.

Native code that uses JNI functions is especially dangerous. Such code can access JDK internals without command-line flags (e.g., --add-opens), by using functions such as getStaticField and callVirtualMethod. It can also change the values of final fields long after they are initialized. Allowing native code to bypass the checks applied to Java code undermines every boundary and assumption in the JDK. In other words, JNI is inherently unsafe.

JNI cannot be disabled, so there is no way to ensure that Java code will not call native code which uses dangerous JNI functions. This is a risk to platform integrity that is almost invisible to application developers and end users because 99% of the use of these functions is typically from third, fourth, and fifth-party libraries sandwiched between the application and the JDK.

Most of the FFM API is safe by design. Many scenarios that required the use of JNI and native code in the past can be accomplished by calling methods in the FFM API which cannot compromise the Java Platform. For example, a primary use case for JNI, flexible memory allocation, is supported with a simple method, MemorySegment::allocateNative, that involves no native code and always returns memory managed by the Java runtime. Generally speaking, Java code that uses the FFM API cannot crash the JVM.

Part of the FFM API, however, is inherently unsafe. When interacting with the CLinker, Java code can request a downcall method handle by specifying parameter types that are incompatible with those of the underlying C function. Invoking the downcall method handle in Java will result in the same kind of outcome — a VM crash, or undefined behavior — that can occur when invoking a native method in JNI. The FFM API can also produce unsafe segments, that is, memory segments whose spatial and temporal bounds are user-provided and cannot be verified by the Java runtime (see MemoryAddress::asSegment).

The unsafe methods in the FFM API do not pose the same risks as JNI functions; they cannot, e.g., change the values of final fields in Java objects. On the other hand, the unsafe methods in the FFM API are easy to call from Java code. For this reason the use of unsafe methods in the FFM API is restricted: Access to unsafe methods is disabled by default, so that invoking such methods throws an IllegalAccessException. To enable access to unsafe methods for code in some module M, specify java --enable-native-access=M on the command line. (Specify multiple modules in a comma-separated list; specify ALL-UNNAMED to enable access for all code on the class path.) Most methods of the FFM API are safe, and Java code can use those methods regardless of whether --enable-native-access is given.

We do not propose here to restrict any aspect of JNI. It will still be possible to call native methods in Java, and for native code to call unsafe JNI functions. However, it is likely that we will restrict JNI in some way in a future release. For example, unsafe JNI functions such as newDirectByteBuffer may be disabled by default, just like unsafe methods in the FFM API. More broadly, the JNI mechanism is so irredeemably dangerous that we hope libraries will prefer the pure-Java FFM API for both safe and unsafe operations so that, in time, we can disable all of JNI by default. This aligns with the broader Java roadmap of making the platform safe out-of-the-box, requiring end users to opt in to unsafe activities such as breaking strong encapsulation or linking to unknown code.

We do not propose here to change sun.misc.Unsafe in any way. The FFM API's support for off-heap memory is an excellent alternative to the wrappers around malloc and free in sun.misc.Unsafe, namely allocateMemory, setMemory, copyMemory, and freeMemory. We hope that libraries and applications that require off-heap storage adopt the FFM API so that, in time, we can deprecate and then eventually remove these sun.misc.Unsafe methods.


Keep using java.nio.ByteBuffer, sun.misc.Unsafe, JNI, and other third-party frameworks.

Risks and Assumptions

Creating an API to access foreign memory in a way that is both safe and efficient is a daunting task. Since the spatial and temporal checks described in the previous sections need to be performed upon every access, it is crucial that JIT compilers be able to optimize away these checks by, e.g., hoisting them outside of hot loops. The JIT implementations will likely require some work to ensure that uses of the API are as efficient and optimizable as uses of existing APIs such as ByteBuffer and Unsafe. The JIT implementations will also require work to ensure that uses of the native method handles retrieved from the API are at least as efficient and optimizable as uses of existing JNI native methods.